2019 PACIFIC NORTHWEST SMALL BUSINESS OWNER REPORT

Eight Surprising Trends Impacting How PNW Business Owners Are Anticipating Performance In The New Year

INTRODUCTION

States across the Pacific Northwest are generally enjoying faster rates of growth than the US economy overall, a fact greatly influenced by the strength of our region’s small-to-mid-sized businesses (SMBs). The growth from the region’s SMB community brings a large impact on hiring. Recent reports show that not only are SMBs in several states in our area are employing just over 50% of all employees, they are contributing to net new job growth as well!

With SMBs playing such a major role in our region’s economic and hiring trends, we wanted to know just how they were thinking about their businesses as we ring in the new year. So, we set out and asked them! We surveyed SMB owners from across the PNW to see just what they felt would be good (and bad) for their businesses. When we compared their responses to their counterparts across the US, we netted out with one clear result: While our region’s SMB owners are optimistic about 2019, there are crystal clear areas where they wish they and their businesses were stronger.

Key Findings

  1. 77% of PNW small business owners are feeling optimistic about their business performance in 2019.

  2. PNWers are 36% less likely than their US counterparts to feel very optimistic about how their business will perform in the new year.

  3. The #1 reason for optimism from PNW business owners is the quality of their products or services.

  4. Nearly one-in-four PNW SMB owners believe their strong existing customer base will mean a successful 2019.

  5. PNWers are 50% more likely to be concerned about their marketing plans than other business owners.

  6. The #1 issue PNW business owners think could hurt their performance in 2019 is limited access to funding or money.

  7. 35% of PNWers said marketing skills and expertise were missing from their organizations, making it the most-frequently-cited area of weakness.  

  8. 61% of PNW small business owners said that finding employees with the right skills or experience was their biggest hiring challenge.

General FINDINGS

On the whole, SMB owners in the PNW are almost as likely as their US counterparts to feel some level amount of optimism (77% responding “very” or “somewhat” optimistic) about their business performance in 2019. While on a high level this seems positive, what’s notable is that PNWers are 36% less likely to feel “very” optimistic. That’s a significantly lower level of optimism about business performance!  

SMB Pacific Northwest Optimism About Business Performance

What’s behind this major decrease in optimism from PNWers? When we asked business owners about the reasons to feel optimistic about their 2019 business performance, PNWers were almost as likely as other SMB owners to point to the quality of their product or service (61%) as well as the strength of their existing customer base (55%) as reasons for optimism.

However, a very different picture emerges when looking at marketing and sales strength. Relative to SMB owners across the US, PNW owners were 57% less likely to point to marketing and 45% less likely to note sales as reasons for optimism in 2019. In fact, they’re also 31% less likely to point to access to funding as a point of optimism. In a nutshell, PNW business owners are feeling a lot less confident about a lot of different business fundamentals.

Pacific Northwest Reasons For Business Optimism

When asked to pick the top reason their businesses will perform well in 2019, nearly one-in-four PNW business owners pointed to the strength of their existing customer base, a huge difference from the 9% of business owners across the rest of the US that chose this reason. That said, the most-frequently-selected factors were the quality of the product or service being offered (30%), followed closely by the quality of their employees (26%), responses that mirrored those of their US counterparts.

Pacific Northwest Top Reasons For Business Optimism SMB Owners

Perhaps it comes at no surprise then that when we asked business owners what the main areas for concern or pessimism were for 2019 business performance, having a weak marketing plan and having limited access to money or funding rose to the top two positions. What was remarkable however was this: PNWers were 50% more likely to select weak marketing plans as something that might hurt their businesses in the new year.

Pacific Northwest SMB Business Performance Pessimism

At the end of the day though, money appears to trump all else. When asked about the #1 thing that concerns them about their 2019 business performance, PNWers matched businesses owners in other regions by noting one core thing: limited access to money or funds. This was followed closely by concerns over marketing plans and having access to the right types of employees.

#1 Reason SMB Pacific Northwest Business Performance Concerns

We then asked owners about the skills or areas of expertise they wished were stronger in their organizations. Unsurprisingly, over one-third selected marketing as a core area of opportunity, no matter if they were in the PNW or elsewhere. Secondary areas of limited expertise included Sales and Finance/Accounting.

Pacific Northwest SMB Business Expertise & Skills

Of course, no business can be successful without great employees or team members serving in critical areas. Among those business owners who do have employees, 61% of PNWers said that finding employees with the right skills or experience was their biggest hiring challenge, followed by 54% who said finding team members with the right drive or motivation was also a challenge. These trends were mirrored by business owners across the US.

PNW SMB Challenges Hiring Employees

CONCLUSION

Running and managing a small-to-mid-sized businesses is hard. But, it looks like PNW business owners feel up to the task! Our region’s small business owners are feeling good about how their businesses will run in the new year...but that optimism is certainly hampered by some concerns. As much as they’re confident about the quality of their products and services, as well as the strength of their customer base, PNW business owners are feeling the pinch of limited funds and are concerned about their ability to whip up strong marketing plans or bring needed marketing expertise into their organizations. It doesn’t help that those looking to bring in great team members are having trouble finding employees with the right mix of skills, experience, and drive.

What does this mean? Organizations supporting small and mid-sized business in the Pacific Northwest, from the Small Business Administration to non-profits and specialty agencies, need to find ways to fill these gaps. From helping PNW business owners get training on the skills they need to backing them with needed outside expertise, these organizations can play a major role in supporting our region’s economy by giving SMB owners the foundations they need to grow their businesses. Keeping our fingers on the pulse of SMB owner challenges and knowing precisely where they need the most assistance will go a long way to ensuring that the PNW’s recent economic boom continues to hold steady in the long term.

METHODOLOGY

Respondents were recruited between Thursday, November 29, 2018 and Friday, November 30, 2018 via Survey Monkey’s Contribute and Rewards panel. The panel is comprised of individuals who voluntarily join to earn credits that can be redeemed for rewards or charity donations, and the panel is balanced according to age and gender census data. Individuals were screened prior to survey entry to ensure that they were at least 18 years of age and self-identified as owning a small-to-mid-sized business in the United States.

A total of 369 respondents were recruited and asked a series of questions around future business performance, and reasons for optimism/pessimism about business performance. Respondent home zip codes were recorded to segment respondents between those living in the Pacific Northwest (defined as anyone living in AK, HI, WA, OR, WY, ID, MT) and those living outside of the Pacific Northwest.